September 30, 1999 By Raymond Dussault
When a police department decides to set up a crime-analysis unit, their base maps are drawn from planning and utilities departments. Inevitably, the data gathered cycles back to city council chambers and the mayor's office.
One example is Overland Park, Kan., a rapidly growing suburb of Kansas City, Mo. The city's crime-analysis unit, only about 6 years old, has been key to cracking jewelry-theft cases several hundred miles away and explaining the impact of new business projects within the city.
The foundation was laid in 1993, when Chief John Douglas, then the department's deputy police chief , became convinced that a major overhaul was needed in the way the department approached crime and community issues.
The city was under pressure, with a large influx of new residents fleeing Kansas City and a burgeoning workday population drawn by new job opportunities in the upscale community. The city now boasts a resident population of 138,000 -- with a daytime population of over 200,000 -- and is home to many large businesses, including Sprint's new international headquarters.
To meet the challenges of growth with a department consisting of 200 sworn officers and a civilian staff of 75, Douglas set out to build a crime-analysis and mapping unit that would help guide department decisions.
What he didn't realize was that he was taking the first step toward building a unit that would draw law enforcement from all over the country, hoping to pattern their success after Overland's.
As a first step, Gerald Tallman was hired to build the unit. He started off with a lot of moral support and little more.
"When it started out, it was just Gerry and a 286. Now this team just keeps making me look better and better," said Captain Glenn Ladd, crime-analysis supervisor. "Either they're putting out great data or there's just so much of it no one can tell."
The team now consists of Tallman, assistant crime analysts Susan Wernicke and Jamie May, and five committed civilian volunteers. Tallman's old 286 is nowhere to be seen.
The team now runs maps, bulletins and statistical reports using seven 450 MHz Pentium III PCs. Those reports are accessible in-house, and crime bulletins are faxed regularly to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in Kansas and Missouri.
Much of the team's work is produced with off-the-shelf software like Microsoft Excel, Word, Outlook, Power Point and FoxPro -- helping to keep costs down -- while their raw data is drawn from the department's server. But it's not hard for Tallman to look back.
"I was given a broad mission statement and a free reign; not much else," he said. "For the first six months, I don't even remember having a computer. I just researched and networked. I called cities all over the country to talk about what they were doing.
"Then I went to Colorado Springs, and spent three days with their unit. Next, it was a vendor fair -- I had them flying in from all over to pitch their wares, but nothing I saw did everything we wanted. Finally, after looking at FoxPro, Lotus and Access, I settled on FoxPro as our software base."
Helping to cement the decision was the fact that the crime-analysis program that Tallman found -- from the Institute for Police Technology and Management (IPTM) -- was written in FoxPro. Still, even IPTM's program was not as user-friendly or versatile as needed.
Tallman negotiated to purchase the source code from
You may use or reference this story with attribution and a link to